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Hawken School Employee Resigns After Anti-Israel Social Media Posts Surface

A faculty member at Hawken School in Chester Township resigned on May 23 after the school became aware of social media posts regarding the Israel-Hamas War.

The posts on LinkedIn share teaching strategies and guides about the war in Gaza and its history from a pro-Palestinian perspective.

“Recently we became aware of social media posts made by one of our faculty members on a personal account regarding the Israel-Hamas war,” Scott Looney, head of school, wrote in a letter to parents and guardians on May 23. “I want to assure you that the matter is being addressed with seriousness and sensitivity. This morning, I accepted the resignation of this faculty member.”

Members of the community reached out to the Cleveland Jewish News on May 22 to share their concern once they learned about the faculty member’s views from a post by watchdog group StopAntisemitism @StopAntisemites on May 21 on X, formerly Twitter.

A representative from Hawken School told the CJN on May 23 the school became aware of the situation on May 21 after community members contacted Hawken School administration and were addressing the situation internally.

The faculty member is Sarah DeBolt Badawi, Hawken upper school dean of learning support, according to @StopAntisemites’ post.

According to the representative, the faculty member ran the learning support center for two years and did not teach classes.

DeBolt Badawi shared content on her LinkedIn in reference to the Oct. 7, 2023, surprise attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent war in Gaza that can be traced back to November 2023.

“As educators continue to strive to bring Palestine into their classrooms – both its history and the current devastating reality of ongoing genocide in Gaza and intensified Israeli settler and army attacks in the occupied West Bank – I will make sure to keep sharing resources here,” DeBolt Badawi posted three months ago along with a link to a guide titled, “Teaching About the Crisis in Gaza: Guidance for Justice-Minded Educators.”

The guide states that “Israel/Palestine is an example of settler colonialism; not a two-sides conflict,” and urges educators to not consult the Anti-Defamation League for its “destructive role in education, especially in terms of weaponizing antisemitism against Palestinians.”

DeBolt Badawi wrote an op-ed for PBS titled, “Educator Voice: Teachers know how to teach hard history about Palestine,” in November 2023. In the article she addressed four places in middle and high school curriculum to teach the history of Israel and Palestine.

DeBolt Badawi’s most recent LinkedIn post shared a lesson developed for Fellowship of Reconciliation, a global movement founded in 1914, titled “Boycotts: Goals, Methods, and Challenges from the U.S. to South Africa to Israel-Palestine” that addressed the “current realities of and resistance to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and self-determination.”

Looney’s letter emphasized the views expressed in the social media posts do not represent the views of Hawken and the school is committed to providing a “safe and inclusive learning environment for all our students, regardless of their cultural, religious, or political affiliations.”

“Hawken recognizes the importance of fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed on complex issues and are engaged with civility and empathy,” he wrote. “It is equally important that such perspectives be shared with caution, especially for those who work in educational settings. When the extent of this faculty member’s social media posts was understood, it called into play, Hawken’s social media policies and procedures for employees.”

Hawken School has guidelines in its employee handbook for social media policies and when the guidelines are not followed, depending on the impact, Hawken School will determine the needed consequences on a case-by-case basis, the Hawken School representative said.

The Hawken Employee Handbook’s social media use policy states:

“Hawken asks its employees to properly represent their professional reputation and Hawken School when posting on their personal social media accounts…make sure content, links, photos, etc. are appropriate for a broad audience. Use discretion, minding boundaries between private and personal communication…remember in the public sphere, employees are a trusted agent of the School and represent the School at all times. Your posts and comments online should help to build and support the traditions and values of the school community…be mindful that content you publish will be public for a long time.”

Looney wrote the term “genocide” carries “immense weight and historical significance, and its usage in the context of the Israeli-Hamas war is highly contentious and polarizing. The resurgence of antisemitism may be fueled by that assertion, regardless of the intent.”

“The human suffering as a result of this conflict is a tragedy that elicits sympathy and concern,” he wrote. “However, the full extent of these social media posts by a faculty member expressing her opinions on the situation in Gaza has understandably caused distress among members of our community. While we respect the right to freedom of expression, it is imperative for Hawken employees to exercise discretion and sensitivity, particularly when discussing or posting about deeply sensitive issues.”